Fixing Hogs was never going to be a rush job

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson walks back to the bench against Missouri in the second half Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks lost 75-71.
Photo by Anthony Reyes
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson walks back to the bench against Missouri in the second half Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks lost 75-71.

The Arkansas Razorbacks have not lost all hopes of making the NCAA Tournament with 10 regular-season games remaining, but now they are a very long shot to be dancing in March Madness.

Just 16 days ago the Hogs beat Kentucky and again it seemed like they might have turned the corner.

Instead they went on the road and lost to Georgia and Tennessee, two other teams that most likely aren’t going to the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas beat Auburn at home as expected, and then unexpectedly lost 75-71 to Missouri on Tuesday night at home. In the final minute the Razorbacks were 3 of 8 from the field, while the Tigers were 8 of 8 from the free-throw line and didn’t officially attempt a field goal.

The Razorbacks Nation is disappointed and getting restless. It hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008.

Mike Anderson was the chosen one when he was hired. He was supposed to pick up where Nolan Richardson left off in 1995 when the Razorbacks followed a NCAA championship with a runner-up finish to UCLA.

Now in his third season, Anderson has only three players from the team he inherited from John Pelphrey - seniors Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and Kikko Haydar, who has gone from a walk-on to a team captain.

Those guys have all started some over the past three seasons but are coming off the bench now.

Understand that shortly after Anderson was hired, it was announced that Arkansas was again below the Academic Progress Rate and would lose a scholarship.

That and the transfers by Rotnei Clarke, Julysses Nobles and Hunter Mickelson have kept Anderson a little shorthanded.

This year’s team, which is arguably his best at Arkansas, is led by freshman Bobby Portis and junior Rashad Madden. Both are from Arkansas. There are a couple of more Arkansans in high school who could help later.

You don’t want to hear about the future?

Sorry, but this was a building process much bigger and more complicated than most people understood when Anderson came on board.

No one takes the losses harder than Anderson, and no matter how tempting he doesn’t call out players by name who don’t execute a play or get in the right spot.

That’s why every day they play a little harder for him.

Anderson’s first year at Arkansas may have been his best coaching year ever. He managed to get 18 victories, including six in SEC play, out of a team that had almost zero discipline the previous year.

It wasn’t just about changing bodies, it was about changing attitudes.

Neither happens overnight.

It took Richardson three years to get Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament and four to win a game in March Madness, but in his fifth season the Razorbacks went to the Final Four. That team had a true point guard in Arlyn Bowers, a shooting guard who would become a phenomenal shooting point guard in Lee Mayberry, a shooter in Todd Day, Mario Credit and a rebounder in Lenzie Howell, who seemed to get every loose ball.

Mayberry and Day went on to become first-round draft picks in the NBA.

If anything was learned from Richardson, it should have been patience. It took him some time, but once he got his players in the Razorbacks became a national power for the better part of six seasons.

That is what spoiled the fans. This is the time of year they want to be talking about seeds, not whether the Razorbacks can run the table in the SEC Tournament.

For most of the game Tuesday night, the kids fought hard and it was entertaining to watch.

The end, though, was just one more frustration in a line of frustrations dating to long before Mike Anderson was hired to fix the program.

Sports, Pages 17 on 01/30/2014